Jan van Goyen (1596 Leyde - 1656 La Haye)
Oil on canvas ; signed and dated "J VGOYEN 1650" at the lower right ; 96 x 107 cm
Johan Adriaen Versijden van Varick ; Leiden, anonymous sale, 29th October 1791 ; Stockholm, Olof Granberg, curator at the Stockholm Museum (catalogue 1917, no. 4) ; Stockholm, Consul Karl Bergsten (catalogue 1925, no. 21) ; London, Sotheby's, 24th March 1976 ; Southwest France, private collection ; Toulouse, Primardeco, 19th October 2009.
Dutch Art (London, Royal Academy, 1929) ; Dutch Masters (Stockholm, 1967).
Hans Ulrich Beck, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1973, no. 702, p. 320 ; Hans Ulrich Beck, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, 1987, no. 702, p. 227 (reproduced).
Comparative bibliography: George S. Keyes, "Jan van Goyen's River Landscape", The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, 1983.
Jan Van Goyen is, with Salomon van Ruysdael, one of the two great painters of the first generation of Dutch landscape painters of the so-called Golden Age. When he finished this painting in 1650, he was 53-54 years old. Painter and bourgeois, he invested in real estate. His two daughters were both married – one of them to the painter Jan Steen – the previous year, and the following one he received a prestigious commission for a panoramic view for the City Hall in The Hague. This domestic happiness is a reflection of the happiness of a nation. In 1648, the Treaty of Münster established the independence of the United Provinces. Then, the landscape painting is, from a word of the art historian Wolfgang Stechow which reflects the spirit of these years when a state is born : "stately".
Van Goyen travels, fills his sketchbooks with drawings. He paints less, but bigger, letting his imagination flow, recomposing the landscape. In this painting, a castle inspired by the one of Montfoort, near Utrecht (which was destroyed by the French army in 1672), stands next to a ruin whose location is the one of Pelkus-poort, also near Utrecht, but whose architecture is the one of Huis te Merwede, near Dordrecht. As George S. Keyes writes about the River Landscape (1648) in the Minneapolis Museum : "Van Goyen celebrates the rich heritage of the young Republic, both natural and architectural – the country itself, subject to the forces of nature and conquered in battle, and some venerable edifice, built with human hands and rooted in the history of a people."
Almost in a square format, a double diagonal structures the painting. A fisherman opens a fish trap, a ferry docks. The whole composition is based on a formula of Esaias van de Velde, Van Goyen's first master, who, as Wolfgang Stechow writes, "concentrates our attention so it does not wander away with the water". But there is more : the softness, the breeze, the humidity. This is van Goyen's contribution.
Exactly the same time as Claude Lorrain in Rome, van Goyen married landscape and history painting. An ideal or fantasized architecture gives to the scene a serene solemnity. However, it is not a queen and her retinue who are embarking, but peasants who are disembarking...